Taylor Swift celebrated her 30th birthday with over 20,000 of her closest friends onstage at Madison Square Garden for iHeartRadio’s annual Jingle Ball, hosted by New York City’s Z100.
Swift took a moment to thank fans for coming to her party.
“I had a choice,” she said. “Where would I want to spend my 30th birthday? The answer is: you’re looking at it. This is the first show of the 30th year of my life.” That show was a quick tour of several recent Swift hits, opening with “Blank Space,” “Shake It Off” and an acoustic version of “Welcome to New York” before she eased into a trio of tracks from her latest album, “Lover”: “Me,” “You Need to Calm Down” and the title track.
It was only fitting that Swift — who first performed at the event in 2009, when she was just turning 20 — would close out the decade at the Garden. She returned five times, on each occasion bringing bigger hits. She even stood on that stage the day she turned 25, in 2014. For the big 3-0, the occasion was amplified when morning show host Elvis Duran surprised Swift with a giant, three-tiered cake adorned with photos of her cats, paired with a unified singalong of “Happy Birthday” to cap it off.
“We’ve been with you along for the whole ride!” Duran said proudly.
“That was the most beautiful song I ever heard,” she said.
Duran revealed to Variety that the cake was supposed to have sparklers for candles, but thankfully that idea was nixed at the last minute.
The birthday celebration continued backstage, as Swift shared in her Instagram story a video of the surprise waiting in her dressing room courtesy of fellow Jingle Ball artist Halsey, who gifted the singer with birthday balloons to make the night even more festive.
It is that kind of camaraderie that makes the annual event — now in its 24th year at the Garden and celebrating its eighth year as a tour — a must-see holiday destination for fans of the pop music world. This year’s lineup was stacked with talent: Camila Cabello, Dan + Shay, Lewis Capaldi, the Jonas Bros., Lauv, Monsta X, Halsey, Niall Horan, Fletcher, 5 Seconds of Summer and Time Magazine’s Entertainer of the Year, Lizzo.
“All the artists here tonight have had a great 2019,” Duran told Variety. “You have Lizzo, for instance, who is going into 2020 with the most Grammy nominations. You have Taylor Swift, who has used her voice to make a difference not only for herself but for other women in the music industry. Every year we all reset after Jingle Ball — we know the end of the year is here, vacation is here, and we have a new year on the way.”
Lizzo’s hotly anticipated six-song set included hits “Good as Hell,” “Truth Hurts” (with flute solo!) and “Cuz I Love You,” with the singer clearly getting emotional as the crowd embraced her good vibes, positivity and festive, sexy Santa outfit.
“Do you like what you see?” she teased, encouraging the crowd to repeat “I want to be a big girl! I love my booty!”
“Lizzo is so hot right now, and she has a huge year on the way,” Duran said. “At the same time, she is so humble, so positive, and takes time to make sure people around her are feeling good and doing okay.”
The singer certainly had her share of fans on the red carpet. Several stars of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” were vocal in support of the star, who clearly made an impression as a judge on the reality show.
Season 11 star Silky Nutmeg Ganoche — who opted for an ensemble representing Kwanzaa, which kicks off Dec. 25 — sang the Detroit native’s praises.
“Speaking as the No. 1 Lizzo impersonator, it is Lizzo’s year and if it’s not, it’s rigged,” she said.
Added Aquaria, winner of Season 10: “She’s a superstar, and it’s so nice that the entire world is getting to recognize that now. She was on my season of ‘Drag Race’ as a judge, so even better. She’s got the juice, so I’ll be sipping!”
“Nashville” star Lennon Stella — fresh off her tour with 5SOS — did double duty, performing at the All Access pre-show party and taking the stage to introduce her tour mates with Anthony Ramos (“A Star is Born,” “In the Heights,” “Hamilton”) before they rocked their third Jingle Ball appearance.
“We just got off the tour five days ago, so it’s just sinking in,” she said. “But we haven’t stopped, so this just keeps us going and keeps us in the Christmas vibe.”
On stage, K Pop stars Monsta X — set to release their first ever all-English release, “All About Luv” on Valentine’s Day — gave a brief teaser with a well-choreographed performance of their single, “Middle of The Night.” The Jonas Bros. kept it festive with “Like it’s Christmas,” country duo Dan + Shay soaked in the moment with a gorgeous version of their hit with Justin Bieber, “10,000 Hours,” Cabella gave a glimpse into her 2020 “Romance” tour with a dynamic performance of her new song, “Living Proof,” and Horan — in hot red pants for the occasion — gave a sneak preview of his forthcoming North American tour with fellow Jingle Ball artists Fletcher and best mate Lewis Capaldi, who snuck in a cover of Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” in his set.
“They are funny as hell,” said Duran. “They play off each other, they finish each other’s sentences, they are rude and disrespectful to each other, and then start laughing about it. My favorite couple here tonight wasn’t Dan and Shay, but it was Lewis and Niall.”
Melissa Gorga of “Real Housewives of New Jersey” took a moment to shout out fellow New Jerseyans The Jonas Brothers on the red carpet.
“They live around the block and I like to support the home team,” she said, adding that her fingers are crossed for the group to be victorious at the Grammy Awards. “I love a good family situation, and they are a great group of boys and I know them all. They are great guys.”
Lauv — who performed at both the pre-show and on the main stage at Jingle Ball — took a moment to thank West Coast Jingle Ball K Pop stars BTS and their fans for the success of “Make It Right.”
“I didn’t know what to expect, but they have taken me in with open arms,” said Lauv, whose new album arrives March 6. “I got an insane amount of followers and Twitter replies, and they are so dedicated. It’s pretty cool.”
The show was so stacked with talent, that Halsey — decked in a Santa-style bikini top — was nearly cut off before playing “Without Me,” the most played radio hit of 2019.
Introduced by actress Tina Fey and “Mean Girls” Broadway star Renee Rapp, Halsey’s set was a mix of fire, confetti, and athletic performance, as the Jersey native shared a story about pretending to be sick so she could stay home from school to win Jingle Ball ticket.
Her pinch-me moment was nearly ruined, as she told the crowd that they were signaling for her to finish up.
“Can I please, please, please, sing this song?” she pleaded, pointing out that many fans were waiting all night for her to perform.
It was worth the wait. Halsey finished strong, with the Garden belting in unison.